Last week’s bombings and gunning down by Boko Haram of innocent Nigerians in Maiduguri and Damaturu during the November Muslim holiday period, including attacks on churches, clearly make the mission of the group completely confusing. The news that there are now three factions of the group with different preferences and inclinations further shows that the Boko Haram is yet to position itself as a means to a definite end.
One of the demands of Boko Haram group is the implementation of the Sharia legal system in twelve states in northern Nigeria. I find difficult to see how that can be achieved with the reckless bombing of people who do not have the authority and resources to grant that demand. I can’t see how bombing of churches and killing of Christians can expedite the accomplishment of that objective. To make matters worse, one faction of the group is completely averse to dialogue. It has been reported that the group claims it is moved to attack Nigerians because of the “excesses” of the Nigerian police and other security agencies that harass hapless Nigerians daily. But are the attacks by Boko Haram group not a harassment of the same hapless Nigerians for whom the group claims to launch those irrepressible attacks? Is Boko Haram not giving itself away as the oppressed turning against fellow oppressed?
I concede that the Nigerian government has been very oppressive. Government officials take for themselves the things that belong to the people. They give Nigerians terrible roads that claim innocent lives daily. It has been said that road accidents in Nigeria claim more lives than HIV/AIDS does. Many contractors in Nigeria connive with Nigerian public officials such as state governors, state commissioners, and federal ministers in this crime against the people. They agree terms with government officials to inflate costs of public projects, which are either abandoned or poorly done even as they crumble no sooner than they are completed. And no contractor is punished because those who should prosecute are those that should be prosecuted.
The Nigerian police and military have taken Nigerians hostage in their country. They stand on our roads with guns and rob us in broad day light with none to deliver. They extort from road users their hard-earned money at gun point at the numerous road check points that dot our badly damaged roads. Many times such check points are mounted at very terrible craters on the road. Worse still, huge branches of trees and used tyres are dangerously packed at those check points and even left there when those “robbers” have closed for the day. Unsuspecting drivers sometimes lose control of their vehicles when they suddenly stumble on those check points at such terrible spots; lives are lost in the process.
If Boko Haram is truly waging war to check the “excesses” of the Nigerian police, military, and other oppressors of Nigerians, they should take note of the people I have mentioned above. Those are the enemies of the state. Nigerians would at least appreciate their cause better when they rather increase the casualties among the oppressors while reducing the number of victims of their attacks among fellow oppressed. Boko Haram could become a weapon of judgement on the oppressors of Nigerians if they identify those who have wasted Nigeria in the past, and who are doing so in the present and go after them—those who have corruptly enriched themselves at the expense of the people; those legislators that take for themselves the funds meant for constituency projects. The senators, members of the House of Representatives, and members of the state houses of assembly should be asked to publish what they have used the quarterly votes for constituency projects on. Members of the society who live above their means could be visited by Boko Haram. Boko Haram should re-appraise their demands and embellish them creatively.
The “Almajiri” phenomenon in northern Nigeria has no root in Islam; rather, it is the result of deprivation and abuse by unscrupulous, mean, and selfish Nigerian rulers, who have paid back the free education they received through the vision of past Nigerian rulers like Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello with contaminating spite. It is the result of corruption. I should think that members of the Boko Haram are knowledgeable people that know Nigerian public officials that have served the people well, and those that have betrayed Nigerians. If they ascribe corruption to “western education”, what then can they say to the reforms in the education sector (“western education”) in the Sultanate of Oman, where Sultan Qaboos established the Sultan Qaboos university in Muscat, an education institution of quality, after deposing his father, whom he felt was denying his people the opportunity for development? Oman is an Islamic country, but with a great education system directed towards supporting the “Omanization” vision. It also has a thriving economy, where standard of living is beyond the wildest dream of the Nigerian, yet Nigeria has more oil and produces more daily than Oman does. Does it mean then that the princes that rule Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Dubai have not received “western education”? Western education is not the problem of Nigeria.
My friends in the Boko Haram group must identify the true enemies of the Nigerian state and tackle them appropriately without increasing casualties among fellow oppressed patriots. If Boko Haram has not been infiltrated by politicians who have mastered the art of corrupting every promising movement in Nigeria, then let them arise. Even if they have, they must purge themselves and arise.
Who has the power to grant that Sharia law be implemented in the twelve northern states of Nigeria? President Jonathan lacks such powers. The national and state houses of assembly lack those powers. Why do I say so? In every state in Nigeria, there are both Christians and Muslims. Does Nigeria allow the subjugation of minority rights by the majority? There is need for a sovereign national conference at which sensitive issues such as the individual’s right of choice of religion and the protection of such rights even within a Sharia-governed state can be discussed and resolved. We have Islamic countries where Christians live and practice their religion without undue interference. But we need a sovereign national conference in Nigeria to discuss all these.
Boko Haram should reach out to other groups in Nigeria and demand for a sovereign national conference, which must be attended by representatives of each ethnic nationality in Nigeria chosen by the people. A new Nigeria must come forth, with the help of groups such as the Boko Haram and the Movement for New Nigeria. In the interim, the Nigeria police should be disbanded. Each state in Nigeria should be allowed under an emergency security law (passed by at least twenty four states and the national assembly) to recruit at most 10,000 people as members of the state police department to be trained by the United Nations in areas such as intelligence gathering, crowd control, ammunition and weaponry, civil relations, evidence gathering, and community policing. Each state shall then contribute 30 percent of its police personnel to form the federal police department. The present police force is beyond redemption.
The country cannot depend on the present police force for security. In Yola, where I live, the hypocrisy of the police hit me harder few days ago. In the day time, we see hoards of police men on the main Yola road that leads from the tower gate as you approach Yola from Numan up to the American University campus as if the police are truly keen on p
roviding security for which they are paid by the Nigerian people. Many check points are mounted, at which money is extorted from road users. On Saturday night (November 5), while returning from the campus at about 11.00 pm, I stopped over and bought just four litres of PMS because the odometer indicated the fuel level in my car was low. I hate buying fuel on the road side but since all gas stations had closed I had no choice but to violate my law of caution. Unknown to me, the petrol they put in my car was dominated by water. I drove about 500 meters before the engine started sputtering. I called my mechanic who came and got out the fuel filter, and we saw that it was filled with water!
I rode a commercial bike to my house and brought another car and took the mechanic to his shop to get a temporary fuel filter. It was past 12.00 pm when we drove to the mechanic yard. We met no policeman on the road. I wondered how Nigerians are without police protection. Here are people that in the day time cause traffic hold up on the main road in Yola, even extorting money from people, who were missing on the same road at a time of night when security should be tighter especially because of the Boko Haram attacks in Maiduguri and Damaturu the previous day. If I were a Boko Haram operative carrying home-made bombs, I could blow up as many buildings as I wanted that night without having to kill myself in the process. Yesterday, I drove home at about past 12.00 midnight (From Friday to Sunday, we had an outdoor camp meeting on our campus featuring Bishop Fred Addo. I must say this otherwise some of my readers would wonder why Shilgba has become such a nocturnal wayfarer). On the same road, I met no policeman on the road; the road was deserted.
In the words of my friend Ribadu, “a new Nigeria is possible.” Nigerian rulers are generally cowards. Boko Haram group does not need to bomb hotels in Abuja or anywhere else in Nigeria. They do not need to bomb church buildings either. The enemies of Nigeria are known, and if they can coordinate themselves well and transform themselves into a true national freedom fighting group, then can they make good history, and win many admirers and companions for the gain of a new Nigeria. But we must come together and talk. This present house must be crashed for a new one to be built. It is only at the dialogue table that we shall discuss the plan, design, and structure of the new house, and what materials each part of the country shall contribute for the project. The Middle Belt Alliance (MBA) welcomes groups in Nigeria that want a new Nigeria through a national dialogue (this includes a Boko Haram that would embrace the message above).
President Jonathan and is team cannot accomplish their set task on the “Transformation Agenda” without a national dialogue that is not tele-guided by the government. Nothing they attempt to achieve shall be a success because the system is not favourable to such agendas.
Finally, I must urge Nigerians not to lose heart or be troubled. Your oppressors shall flee or perish. He that oppresses with the sword shall perish with the sword. Overcome the temptation of taking sides with the destroyers of our commonwealth only because they come from the same part of the country with you. The current system can’t work for us. It is a system where there is no accountability; thus, there is impunity. And the people are losers.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor
American University of Nigeria